November 13, 2007
I've been tremendously busy with non-stop work travel/meetings and haven't had time to put up a note mentioning same. When I can, I'll be back, hopefully reasonably soon. Thanks for your patience. Meantime, note Daniel Larison has been churning out a lot of very good content of late and I'd suggest any readers not already acquainted with him might well point their browsers over there (I owe him a response on Obama as well, which I'll try to get to in the coming days...)
Posted by Gregory at 05:41 PM
November 08, 2007
"People who have realized that this is a dream imagine that it is easy to wake up, and are angry with those who continue sleeping, not considering that the whole world that environs them does not permit them to wake. Life proceeds as a series of optical illusions, artificial needs and imaginary sensations."
--Alexander Herzen, explaining better than I ever could the root of many of my frustrations of late, not least surveying the wreckage that is today's Jacobinized Republican Party. Related, another Herzen gem: "It is possible to lead astray an entire generation, to strike it blind, to drive it insane, to direct it towards a false goal. Napoleon proved this." Thank God only 24% seem this deluded still, in their desperately needy fantasies about Islam storming the ramparts of their neighborhood malls and congregations. And yet, a "small man in search of a balcony"-- of late fusing feigned televangical style Christianism to his woefully authoritarian tendencies--might still gain the Presidency. It appears fantastical fear-mongering is still a potent political tool. When will large swaths of the American public cease behaving like a cowering mass?
November 06, 2007
An Edifice of Half-Truths, Lies & Obfuscations
In this new war, the enemy conspires in secret -- and often the only source of information on what the terrorists are planning is the terrorists themselves. So we established a program at the Central Intelligence Agency to question key terrorist leaders and operatives captured in the war on terror. This program has produced critical intelligence that has helped us stop a number of attacks -- including a plot to strike the U.S. Marine camp in Djibouti, a planned attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi, a plot to hijack a passenger plane and fly it into Library Tower in Los Angeles, California, or a plot to fly passenger planes into Heathrow Airport and buildings into downtown London. Despite the record of success, and despite the fact that our professionals use lawful techniques, the CIA program has come under renewed criticism in recent weeks. Those who oppose this vital tool in the war on terror need to answer a simple question: Which of the attacks I have just described would they prefer we had not stopped? [my emphasis]
It is distressing in the extreme such transparently demagogic tactics are being used by a sitting President of the United States. I mean, where's the beef on all these supposed terror plots having been prevented as a result of torture (sorry, "enhanced interrogation techniques")? Are we really meant to believe that Karachi, Djibouti, Library Tower and Heathrow were all stopped because tactics like sleep deprivation and water-boarding were being employed on varied detainees? I think not.
Djibouti: Bush was referring to Camp Lemonier, formerly a U.S. Marine Base in Djibouti, now a U.S. Navy Base. The (normally rather thorough) Wikipedia entry doesn't even mention a potential terror attack there, so we must look further afield for evidencing thereto. One of the few sources detailing a potential terror plot is Government-linked, from this "Summary of the High Value Terrorist Detainee Program", released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence:
In early 2004, shortly after his capture, al-Qa'ida facilitator Gouled Hassan Dourad revealed that in mid-2003 al-Qa'ida East Africa cell leader Abu Talha al-Sudani sent him from Mogadishu to Djibouti to case the US Marine base at Camp Lemonier, as part of a plot to send suicide bombers with a truck bomb into the base. His information -- including identifying operatives associated with the plot -- helped us to enhance the security at the camp.
My my. Hardly the much ballyhooed ticking-bomb type case, eh? In "early 2004", so-called 'enhanced interrogation techniques' reportedly had one Gouled Hassan Dourad revealing that way back in "mid-2003" the U.S. Marine base at Camp Lemonier may have been getting cased some, and as a result, security at the camp was enhanced. For this thin gruel we are torturing detainees in our captivity? See too this article from '05, describing a rather quotidian existence at the camp, with nary a mention of an apocalyptic terror plot narrowly averted. Most tellingly, don't miss this piece from a Marine Corps Officer serving in Djibouti--written in January of '03 (before the alleged dastardly plot!)--complaining about the poor security at the camp. Frankly, one wonders if security measures weren't ameliorated for reasons quite separate from an alleged busted terror plot...i.e, grunts on the base ticked off (justifiably so) by the security short-falls.
US Consulate in Karachi: Ah, the Karachi consulate...such a rare target!
The Karachi consulate attacks are a string of attacks against and plots to attack against the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan during the War on Terrorism. The consulate is a tempting target for Islamic fundamentalists, because it occupies a slightly vulnerable position in downtown Karachi, next to the Marriott Hotel and accessible from two sides by roads.
The same Director of National Intelligence report linked above states: "(i)n the spring of 2003, the US and a partner detained key al-Qa'ida operatives who were in the advanced stages of plotting an attack against several targets in Karachi, Pakistan that would have killed hundreds of innocent men, women, and children."
Interesting, this Wikipedia entry lists a June '02 attack on the Consulate in Karachi, as well as a Feb '03 shooting, nearby March '06 bombing (outside the Karachi Marriott Hotel), and even a thwarted March '04 bomb plot. But no mention of a "spring" (not even a month?) '03 alleged attack, regarding "several targets" in Karachi? Again, where's the beef? Outside of Jack Bauer fantasy-land at least, it appears a March '04 plot on the consulate in Karachi was interrupted--ostensibly by relatively routine Pakistani intelligence and police efforts--not a circa. spring '03 water-boarding fiesta meant to titillate the Camp Gitmo crowd of America's increasingly fascistic right.
Library Tower: This plot has also been described as "The West Coast Airliner Plot", and the Director of National Intelligence report describes it thusly "(i)In mid-2002, thanks to leads from a variety of detainees, the US disrupted a plot by 9/11 mastermind KSM to attack targets on the West Coast of the United States using hijacked airplanes."
Bush first described the plot in a February '06 speech:
Since September the 11th, the United States and our coalition partners have disrupted a number of serious al Qaeda terrorist plots -- including plots to attack targets inside the United States. Let me give you an example. In the weeks after September the 11th, while Americans were still recovering from an unprecedented strike on our homeland, al Qaeda was already busy planning its next attack. We now know that in October 2001, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad -- the mastermind of the September the 11th attacks -- had already set in motion a plan to have terrorist operatives hijack an airplane using shoe bombs to breach the cockpit door, and fly the plane into the tallest building on the West Coast. We believe the intended target was Liberty [sic] Tower in Los Angeles, California.*
It's odd that al-Qaeda would be specifically plotting to use shoe-bombs to breach cockpit-doors back in October of '01, especially as it wasn't even until November of that year that the TSA established requirements for "installing reinforced cockpit doors in aircraft." Regardless, al-Qaeda reportedly originally planned for approximately 10 airplanes to strike the East and West Coasts of the U.S. simultaneously--and perhaps not having the requisite amount of capable terrorists who had infiltrated the U.S--Osama prioritized the financial and political capitals of the country on the East Coast. So was the "Library Tower Plot" (Bush in his Feb '06 speech called it, somewhat amusingly, the "Liberty Tower" plot) really something new, or more residue of 9/11 that was far from imminently realizable, particularly given the massive post 9/11 ramped up security at the nation's airports?
As this article details:
But several U.S. intelligence officials played down the relative importance of the alleged plot and attributed the timing of Bush's speech to politics. The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to publicly criticize the White House, said there is deep disagreement within the intelligence community over the seriousness of the Library Tower scheme and whether it was ever much more than talk.
Frankly, the discord in the intelligence community alone would seem to caution against using this plot as a centerpiece example for advocating using torture techniques to interrogate detainees, I'd think...
Heathrow Airport and buildings into downtown London: No, no--this wasn't the circa. '06 'liquid bomb' plot that has us all putting our shaving cream and toothpaste in zip-locs, but rather (again, per the National Intelligence document), Bush seems to have conflated two alleged attacks: 1) "the 2004 UK Urban Targets Plot--in mid 2004, the US and its counter-terrorism partners disrupted a plot that involved attacking urban targets in the United Kingdom with explosive devices...and 2) the Heathrow Airport Plot--In 2003, the US and several partners...disrupted a plot to attack Heathrow Airport using hijacked commercial airlines."
I'll grant some credence to a KSM-linked potential attack on Heathrow, perhaps, but the "2004 UK Urban Targets Plot" is tremendously vague indeed. But even with regard to the more documented prospective Heathrow plot, note the Times article mentions MI5 "received detailed intelligence in February 2003". The Director of National Inteligence report tells us KSM's network was behind this attack, and so we are led to believe water-boarding this human scum lead to an intelligence breakthrough. And yet, KSM wasn't captured until March of '03. Go figure...
Rarely has one seen such an edifice of half-truths, lies and obfuscations put in the service of a democracy turning its back on Enlightenment values to cheerlead use of torture against detainees in its captivity. But the President's repulsively loaded words are nakedly clear in their mendacity: "(w)hich of the attacks I have just described would they prefer we had not stopped?" If Bush genuinely believes he is telling the truth, his shabby mediocrity continues to defile the nation through abject ignorance. And if he is aware of the essential lack of real causation between a scandalous CIA interrogation program and these supposedly interrupted plots, he is purposefully lying to the American people on matters of the greatest import.
Either way, he is engaging in cheap demagoguery. With respect for the Office of the President of the United States, either possibility is deeply repugnant. As a fellow Andover grad, let me remind the President that Andover's 1778 Constitution tasks the school to prepare "(y)outh from every quarter" to appreciate that "goodness without knowledge is weak ... yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous." Bush would seem to fail on both counts. But regardless of whether the President is a weak, well-intentioned ignorant, or a dangerously pernicious dissembler--not least given the great power of his office and bully pulpit--he has proven a nastily effective demagogue indeed regarding issues of essential import to our moral fiber (at least with his increasingly authoritarian cultist base). This crude debasement of our 'better angels' and national honor will be his real legacy, along with his massive strategic blunders in the Middle East.
November 05, 2007
Pervez Hearts Honest Abe
...my oath to preserve the constitution to the best of my ability, imposed upon me the duty of preserving, by every indispensable means, that government--that nation--of which that constitution was the organic law. Was it possible to lose the nation, and yet preserve the constitution? By general law, life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitution, through the preservation of the nation. Right or wrong, I assumed this ground, and now avow it.
President Abraham Lincoln, as quoted by General Pervez Musharraf in his speech to the Pakistani nation declaring a state of emergency (go to approximately the 4:50 minute mark):
And yet, as foreign diplomats recount, the General seemed (in a meeting with the diplomatic corps) much more consumed by domestic political enemies than the scourge of Islamist terrorists destabilizing the polity:
At the meeting, the general primarily railed against his political opponents, with special venom reserved for the Supreme Court. When asked by a diplomat to describe specific plans to crack down on terrorists, General Musharraf gave only a vague answer.
The Highs and Lows...
Apropos of nothing really, a little plug for the Turnley brothers collection of war photography "In Times of War and Peace". I'm no authority by any stretch (though my wife is a photographer and charitably dispenses wisdom to me on matters photography on occasion) but find myself pulling this book off the shelf quite often. And as brutish and horrific as the scenes of carnage from varied global hot-spots, there is a reason the book mentions "peace" too. The Turnley's, I believe, are based in Paris (or at least were for a spell around the time this book was published), and book-end the grisly front-line scenes with some pics of repose and merriment on the Left Bank during off-time. But the vital core and huge majority of work here are the war pictures, truly a powerful series of photographs. Many in our derrieres-on-couch interventionist cheerleader class would benefit from a glance through, I suspect...
November 04, 2007
The 'Presidentialists' versus Original Intent
In no part of the Constitution is more wisdom to be found than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. ... War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will which is to direct it. In war, the public treasures are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. ... It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered, and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.
-- James Madison.
This via Anthony Lewis, who writes:
There is a profound oddity in the position of the presidentialists like Yoo, Cheney and Addington. Legal conservatives like to say that the Constitution should be read according to its original intent. But if there is anything clear about the intentions of the framers, it is that they did not intend to create an executive with more prerogative power than George III had. Not even in time of war.
Don't miss this interesting snippet from Lewis' piece either:
In an interesting comparison with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s sweeping power in World War II, Goldsmith says Roosevelt relied on persuasion, bargaining, compromise. “The Bush administration has operated on an entirely different concept of power that relies on minimal deliberation, unilateral action and legalistic defense. This approach largely eschews politics: the need to explain, to justify, to convince, to get people on board, to compromise.” [my emphasis throughout]
And sadly, in the face of a largely supine and/or under-qualified legislature, the Cheney approach has 'worked' quite well indeed.To our grave and collective detriment.
November 01, 2007
Obama's Foreign Policy, Best in Class (So Far)
Barack Obama makes some very good points in this NYT interview. A couple quick highlights, one on Iraq, the other Iran. First, Iraq:
Q. If you saw that the Iraqi government, under the duress of American withdrawals, was not making progress or if sectarian violence was beginning to increase in Iraq, would you call a halt to withdrawals or proceed anyway?
And on Iran:
Q. The Bush administration has little influence on Iranian behavior in Iraq. How would you elicit cooperation from Iran and Syria that the Bush administration has failed to obtain? Would we offer assurances that we would not be engaged in a policy of regime change. What would you do?
I suppose it's no secret I'm something of a one-issue voter when it comes to Presidential elections. That is, I vote for the candidate I think will pursue the best foreign policy. Taxes go up and down, domestic policy reforms move in various directions with varied policy trends, but my heart and intellect focus on the foreign policy of this country (this of course includes fundamental 'human rights' issues such as detainee rights and torture policy). And so far, especially with Chuck Hagel not running, I think we are seeing the strongest foreign policy enunciated by the Obama campaign. Roue cynics might protest I'm damning with faint praise given the competition (almost the entire Republican field has become something of a primal goose-stepping brigade chanting on about 'Islamofascism', and I've not been particularly blown away by HRC, Edwards etc on the other side of the aisle), but be that as it may, I think he's the best we've got running so far.
B.D. will try to keep monitoring the ebbs and flows of the foreign policy debate as the election proceeds...to include what we might call the Bill Clinton and Dick Holbrooke factor (powerful players who can do what the current Administration has proven unable to, that is, actually negotiate with skill, determination and persistence). Still, for now, count me as an Obama fan, in the main. I know his almost patrician bearing and reticence to land knock-out blows have annoyed some, and there are other issues with him, of course, not least his relative youth. But boy, Rumsfeld and Cheney were sure experienced, and I'm hard-pressed to identify worse national security players in my lifetime. And his youth is also an advantage somehow, there is a freshness and openess to bucking some of the most tired bromides (save 'carrots and sticks', but that's for another day, and regardless he isn't the worst offender on this score!) that feels refreshingly honest.
Chuck Schumer: "No nominee from this administration will agree with us on things like torture and wiretapping...The best we can expect is somebody who will depoliticize the Justice Department and put rule of law first, even when pressured by some of the administration. If Mukasey is that type of person, I’ll support him.” [my emphasis]
Mr. Schumer, "putt(ing) rule of law first" means outlawing torture. I well understand that (especially compared to Gonzalez) Mukasey is a veritable paragon of competence. And I know how desperately the Department of Justice needs fresh leadership of such caliber. But torture speaks directly to the civilizational values of this country in most fundamental fashion. There can be no compromise on this point, even on behalf of a very talented lawyer from your home state. Torture belongs to the pre-Enlightenment era, hundreds of years past. The notion that the U.S. Congress would approve as Attorney General--the chief law enforcement officer of the United States--a man who can not declare an ancient, disgraced torture technique such as water-boarding illegal is simply unacceptable. Please stand firm on behalf of our country on this point.
UPDATE: Re-reading this post, it feels almost desperately mawkish, to a fashion, not least given the likely reality John Cole points out so well here. Still, what would Andrew say, "know hope"? Meantime, Scott Horton registers his protest too, quite significant, given Mukasey works at his firm. But Scott (who I know personally) simply has too much integrity to do otherwise. He writes:
I have very strong conflicting views about the vote which is coming in the Judiciary Committee. I believe that Mukasey, as an individual, is exceptionally well qualified to serve as attorney general. I would approve the Mukasey who says he “personally” finds waterboarding abhorrent. But I am troubled by the “official” Mukasey who is being trotted out as something different. And I believe that the nation cannot, at this stage, accept the appointment of an attorney general who refuses to come clean on the torture issue. In the end this is essential to national identity, and to the promise of the Justice Department to serve as a law enforcement agency. Too much of what the Justice Department has done of late has little resemblance to law enforcement. Rather it looks to be just the opposite.
When good men get too close to the orbit of this deeply corrupt, wayward Administration, they almost inexorably get sullied in the process. That's the sad reality, alas.
MORE: Gig's up.... And so the Congress, even with a Democratic majority, continues apace towards rubber-stamping Duma status. Frankly, if we had fewer "constitutionally illiterate" (Bruce Fein's phrase) representatives, impeachment charges for Dick Cheney would likely be getting drawn up. Instead, we're confirming as Attorney General of the United States a man who won't declare water-boarding illegal, and this with the opposition party controlling the Judiciary Committee. We are living through one of the saddest chapters in U.S. history. The question is, how and when will it end?
Different Strokes, Different Folks
Karen Hughes, announcing her resignation as Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs: "[it was] getting harder and harder to get on that airplane...I want to live in the same city as my husband."
A Foreign Service Officer, speaking at a Town Hall Meeting at the State Department yesterday, re: forced assignments to Iraq: "It’s one thing if someone believes in what’s going on over there and volunteers, but it’s another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment...I’m sorry, but basically that’s a potential death sentence, and you know it."
About Belgravia Dispatch
Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.
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